- The first few months of 2019 have resulted in multiple vetoes by President Donald Trump, as Republicans buck leadership over frustrations with administration policy.
- There have been several instances where the administration has been embarrassed over squabbles in the Senate.
- With massive trade negotiations on the table, more fighting between Trump and the Senate are likely.
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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s administration has continued to be volatile and chaotic in 2019, which should come as no surprise taking the past several years into consideration.
But one development which only began in 2019 is a constant stream of embarrassments for the White House coming out of the Senate.
There have been a flurry of resolutions rebuking the president on signature policies carried over the finish line by Republicans joining a united minority of Democrats looking to resist the president at all costs. That has made headaches for the White House and could signal more trouble as the 2020 election cycle heats up, in which Senate Republicans have to defend 22 seats to keep their majority.
Right away in January when the new Congress began, lawmakers were in a bind. The longest partial government shutdown in United States history left senators on both sides of the political aisle fatigued. And the shutdown was entirely of Trump’s making, demanding Congress fund construction of his long-promised border wall, otherwise he would not sign anything to reopen the government.
But Trump’s stubbornness fell through when he signed a continuing resolution to reopen the government without a dime for additional border security. Congress then convened a bicameral conference committee to hash things out. Their conclusion was giving Trump a fraction of what he demanded for the border wall.
That prompted Trump to take action, declaring a national emergency to divert military funds for several billion dollars more to add physical barriers along the border. The move angered a large number of Republicans who cried out against former President Barack Obama’s use of executive power on immigration issues.
After Democrats crafted a resolution to terminate the national emergency declaration, Republicans joined in to rebuke the president. Vice President Mike Pence tried to broker a deal to stave off a Republican revolt and thoroughly embarrass Trump. The plan was to get Trump on board with a bill that would limit future use of emergency powers if they went along with this one. But Trump rejected that and the rebellion snowballed.
Trump ultimately vetoed the resolution, but not after witnessing more than half a dozen Republican senators vote for a resolution that tacitly accused him of abusing his authority.
The veto was the first of Trump’s presidency and came relatively early in his term. For context, Obama didn’t issue a single veto until the final year of his presidency.
Senate Republicans rebuked Trump after inaction on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Several days after the national emergency declaration fight that enveloped Capitol Hill and the White House, Trump found himself in the same spot having to push back on a bipartisan group of senators angry at his administration’s policies.
The Senate passed a resolution withdrawing US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Part of this was due to genuine frustrations with how the Saudis have been handling the grueling war, but another was due to the Trump administration’s lax handling of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Senators were furious over the Trump administration not properly briefing them on the circumstances of Khashoggi’s murder. Moreover, the administration continued its cozy relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, largely viewed as the architect behind the killing.
The resolution handily passed the Senate, with several Republicans joining all Democrats. Trump vetoed the resolution later in April, adding another to his record.
More fights are on the horizon
A big part of Trump’s agenda has been the crafting of his new North American trade agreement, the USMCA. His trade negotiations have also been a major point of contention among Republicans.
Republicans are traditionally staunch advocates of free trade policy, which Trump is not.
The Trump administration’s use of tariffs on various industries does more harm than good, Republicans say. And their deployment as a means of bringing other countries to the table is a serious political risk, as they could put Trump’s high economic approval in jeopardy.
The USMCA has already hit several roadblocks. Democrats are not on board with the plan, which one Republican senator characterized as essentially dead in the water.
“Obviously that ship has sailed and now we’re in a position where our Democratic colleagues are – I’m not a aware of a single elected Democrat member of Congress who’s endorsed this,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters in a February meeting. “Maybe you are but I’m not. I’m aware of many who have panned it.”
“So it’s not clear to me what the path forward is,” he added. “As I’ve warned the administration, there’s a lot of resistance from Democrats.”
And if Trump tries to take things into his own hands regarding NAFTA, as he often threatens to do, he could be met with swift resistance from lawmakers in both parties.
Toomey said a unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA by the president would not only be illegal, but would plunge the US economy into chaos.
And Republicans already are not too fond of the USMCA. While US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been quietly meeting with lawmakers in the Capitol, little progress has been made.
“They don’t think they’re going to have enough votes on their side obviously to pass it. They don’t,” Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell told INSIDER. “Even if every Republican voted they still don’t have enough votes.”
While the rocky start to 2019 could get a whole lot worse, there are still many areas where Republicans enjoy Trump. Probably the largest are the administration’s economic successes, but further infighting and radical proposals could hurt those gains with an election around the corner.